Upgrade Your Kit Lens with these Capable, Inexpensive Zooms

When you buy a camera, it often comes with a kit lens, something like an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. And while a basic lens like that is fine when you’re learning the ropes of photography, once you start to get the hang of things, a lens upgrade is in order.

Unfortunately, many of the best lenses are expensive. Like very expensive. So unless you buy pre-owned lenses (which I strongly urge you to look into), you might want to look at bargain zoom lenses that won’t break the bank but will still offer you more capability than your kit lens.

Here are a few of the top zoom lenses you can buy without spending a ton of cash.

Tamron 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 Di LD Macro

Buying new lenses on a budget often means opting for third-party manufacturers like Tamron. In the past, this could’ve been a bad thing, but in recent years, Tamron, Tokina, Sigma, and other third-party lens makers have really stepped up their game.

The Tamron 70-300mm macro lens shown above isn’t just for shooting up-close portraits of frogs, insects, flowers, and other small subjects.

Instead, with the massive 70-300mm focal range, you can use it for nature photography, wildlife photography, portraiture, landscapes, and sports photography, too.

Because it’s a macro lens, it produces gorgeously sharp and detailed images.

Though close-up photos will show a diminished depth of field, particularly for smaller subjects, when you use this lens for distant subjects, you’ll find that your images are impressively sharp.

Best of all, this zoom lens is available for Nikon, Canon, and other major camera brands, and at the time of writing, you can pick one up for less than $130.

Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS

Designed specifically for Canon APS-C cameras, the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-f/5.6 won’t wow you with a huge aperture or top-shelf optics that you’ll find in Canon’s L-series glass for professional photographers. However, what you will find is a highly capable lens that gives you much more capability to take varied photos than your kit lens.

For starters, the 55-250mm focal length takes you from short telephoto all the way into long telephoto range once you take crop factor into account. That is, with Canon’s 1.6x crop factor, this lens has an effective focal length of 88-400mm. That means you can use this lens for anything from portraits to landscapes to wildlife with ease.

Though you probably don’t want to make a habit of shooting handheld, with Canon’s Image Stabilization technology, you can hold this lens at slower shutter speeds and worry less about introducing camera shake.

Another feature that could prove beneficial is the Movie Servo Autofocusing, which helps minimize noise associated with the lens zooming in and out.

This is handy for keeping nearby subjects undisturbed and for shooting video without hearing zoom noise all the time.

Add to that the fact that this lens weighs just over a pound, and you have a solid, lightweight, and capable lens to add to your kit. It’s less than $300 brand new, too, so it’s certainly one of the best cheap zoom lenses for Canon cameras. You might be able to find an even better deal on a used version of this lens as well!

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116

Though not a strict kit lens replacement, the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 wide-angle is one of the top zoom lenses you can buy for under $400. At f.2.8, this lens has a much larger maximum aperture than the other two lenses discussed above. That means that it’s a more capable low-light shooting lens.

What’s more, by opening the aperture up nice and wide, you can use faster shutter speeds to avoid camera shake. Larger apertures are also helpful for blurring the background of your photos. Though the 11-16mm focal length will restrict you mostly to landscapes, at least they will be ultimately sharp with minimal ghosting, flare, and other aberrations.

If you primarily shoot landscapes, it’s hard to go wrong with this little lens. Really, it’s hard to go wrong with any of these budget zoom lens options!

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